A contracture is a fixed tightening of muscle, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It prevents normal movement of the associated body part and can cause permanent deformity.
A contracture develops when the normally elastic connective tissues are replaced by inelastic fibrous tissue. This makes the affected area resistant to stretching and prevents normal movement.
Contractures occur primarily in the skin, underlying tissues, muscle, tendons and joint areas. The most common causes are scarring and lack of use (due to immobilization or inactivity):
- Dupuytren’s contracture
- Claw hand
- Foot drop (the foot points downward)
- Wrist drop (the wrist cannot be lifted)
- Volkmann’s contracture
- Becker’s muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy
- Injury (including burns)
- Reduced use (for example, from immobilization)
- Damage or degeneration of the nerves
- Inherited disorders (such as muscular dystrophy)
Home care continues the care that the health care provider prescribes. For example, physical therapy exercises must be continued at home.
Call your health care provider if
- A contracture seems to be developing.
- You notice a decreased ability to move a joint.
What to expect at your health care provider’s office
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your tightness or limited movement, such as:
- When did it start?
- How would you describe it? Where is it located? How bad is it?
- How much movement is there?
- What other symptoms are also present?
Depending on the cause and type of contracture, diagnostic testing (such as an x-ray) may be necessary.
Physical therapy, orthopedic braces, or surgery may be helpful for some types of contractures.
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.